What happens when a local winery, restaurant and bed and breakfast come together? In short, there’s great wine, delicious food and excellent hospitality. This was my experience at Hermit Woods Winery’s second annual Wine Release Dinner, the event that marks the beginning of the winery’s season and introduces members of the media to their offerings.
A group of us met at Hermit Woods Winery, located in Sanbornton near Steele Hill Resort. The boutique winery opened in 2011, offering wines made from grapes, fruit and honey (meads). Co-owners Bob Manley and Ken Hardcastle greeted us, noting Chuck Lawrence, a commercial pilot, was in Portugal. Hardcastle, a geologist by trade and the winery’s chief winemaker, said their goal is to use local fruits and products to create classical style, dry wines.
“Every year Ken achieves more unique combinations, bringing out the qualities in the wines,” said Manley. “This is our second annual wine release dinner and we want to make this a tradition.”
The 2012 Kiwi Wine is something I was really looking forward to trying, as past batches have sold out before I had the chance. The 2012 wine was made with two local organic kiwi varieties, chosen for their tartness. This wine has great aromas and flavors of honeydew melon. It is off dry and could be compared to a Riesling, but has its own uniqueness and isn’t overly sweet.
As Hermit Woods has been open for a couple of years now, they are able to age some of their wines. One example of that is their 2011 Blue Mead, a blend of two separate wines: blueberry wine and honey mead. This wine is off dry and should be served slightly chilled. The 2011 Elderberry Oak is another example of an aged fruit wine, similar to the elderberry wine but this one is fermented warmer and aged in an oak barrel.
One wine made from grapes at Hermit Woods is the 2011 Ermitano, a cabernet sauvignon made from Chilean grapes. “Ermitano” means hermit in Spanish, and this wine is big, bold and deep red in color. Big red wine drinkers will enjoy this one, as it was aged in oak for seven months.
One of my favorite wines of the night was the 2012 Deep Blue, an intense, port style wine made with low bush blueberries. The aroma of this wine is great and the finish is very smooth despite noticeable tannins and strong alcoholic heat.
Following this tasting, the group of us headed to the Lake House at Ferry Point, a Sanbornton bed and breakfast on Lake Winnisquam where John and Cindy Becker are the innkeepers. There, Chef Kevin Halligan from Local Eatery in Laconia and his wife, Gillian, were busy preparing a fabulous seven course menu, each course paired with a different Hermit Woods wine. First, we sampled a blueberry Bellini, made with Hermit Woods’ Hermitage wine.
I have worked with Halligan in the past and eaten at Local Eatery restaurant, so I knew dinner was going to be amazing because he is such a great chef. He uses as many locally sourced products in his restaurant as he can, which supports local farms and businesses and equals a very high-quality product. He did an exceptional job pairing Hermit Woods’ wines with an exquisite menu and explaining his choice for each.
We enjoyed pan-seared scallops paired with Lake House White; a lobster cocktail paired with Harvest Apple, a mixed greens salad paired with Three Honey Wine, braised rabbit paired with Knot Mead, pork medallions paired with Petite Blue Reserve and three cheese blintzes paired with Mélange. The last time I had such a wonderful meal was at Local Eatery earlier this year, but the wine pairing made it that much better.
During the meal, I thought about what made Hardcastle and Halligan so good at what they do: they both respect their ingredients and celebrate the best qualities in their products. Hardcastle allows the grapes and fruit awaken the palate in his wine, while Halligan showcases each item on a plate, put there for a reason.
One of my favorite pairings was the third course. The complex flavors in the award-winning Three Honey Wine went really well with the mixed greens, apples, honey glazed almonds, fresh goat cheese and honey ramp vinaigrette in the salad.
Following dinner, some of us stayed at the Lake House, where we had a classic New England inn experience. I was lucky enough to be able to stay in the Sunrise Room, which has the inn’s best view of the lake. The Becker’s served an excellent breakfast in the morning of pancakes, sautéed strawberries and a local egg omelet.
This experience was truly amazing and I was very thankful to be able to experience the wine, food and hospitality offered by these three local businesses. I was also very impressed with the wine and I highly recommend trying it.